Fourth in our series of 30 Under Thirty interviews is Stephanie Knabe with Population Services International (PSI), an international development non-profit organization dedicated to serving poor and vulnerable populations through health products & services. PSI views social marketing as a way to leverage private sector marketing techniques for social good, i.e. improving the health of people in areas such as family planning, HIV and AIDs, malaria, and safe drinking water. As part of the Learning & Performance team, Stephanie’s responsibilities put her at the center of sparking a creative, collaborative learning culture throughout PSI. She has traveled the globe helping PSI offices improve performance and can speak to the impact of staff learning how to use tools for themselves. Says Stephanie, “I believe in creating opportunities for people from diverse cultures to learn and apply their learning to empower change at a local level.”
Maestro: Tell me about some of the things you are doing to stay current in the world of learning.
Stephanie: I love to get inspiration and new ideas anywhere from the attending learning conferences, reading recommended books, magazines, blogs, following discussions on LinkedIn or even to thinking about how other unrelated businesses leverage their model to generate a positive customer experience. To me learning is all about meeting internal customer needs to maximize external gains. Therefore, I’m intrigued to explore how other unrelated businesses approach customers and deliver their services. This thinking can translate to applications we would never think of within our own organization or for our team’s offerings.
Maestro: What challenges do you see for the next generation of learning leaders - people like you?
Stephanie: The next generation of leaders often get the reputation for wanting to push new, innovative technologies. But we must question how the learning field can apply age-old methods of bringing people together (think drawing pictures on cliffs or sitting around a campfire) across time and space. How can we leverage technology to simulate the same environment we know works but in a completely new age? Frequently within my own organization, I see the assumption that a virtual meeting is more of a hassle, less productive than an in-person meeting. Yet, when given the opportunity to try new tools or technologies that are well-facilitated, people like it. We’re able to quickly brainstorm ideas from people in Liberia to Angola to Poland in ways diverse voices in a conference call with multiple time zones could not. We must challenge assumptions within physical and virtual space but remain true to the core of how human nature relates.
Maestro: What excites you about the future of learning?
Stephanie: I am excited by the possibilities of the future. With technology and ever-expanding globalization, we have the ability to push the frontiers of learning. Learning professionals can empower people around the globe to change behavior and create better lives. Education no longer has to be limited to the elite within certain societies. Learning can play a key role in access to healthcare or other basic services – from educating staff to the communities themselves. What’s the common thread that weaves different people across functions together in unique ways? Learning.
I’m particularly interested in the mash-up of technology and inspiring innovation to create impactful learning experiences. Brainstorming with a colleague on how to approach creating a marketing academy, we let ourselves run with the possibility of what can be. We thought, “what about a frequent flyer mileage points program applied to online learning with a twist of social networking “likes” and “badges” embedded? Cool! Let’s try it.” Just like that, we had wacky ideas and the original inspiration taking shape into a distinctive learning opportunity that can influence global and local culture (and that’s just one example of thinking applied to our various projects!). The field of learning has the right foundation of skills, tools and people to challenge organizational assumptions and put learners at the center to create and share knowledge. I’m fascinated by the opportunity to empower people around the globe to get engaged and co-create solutions within this complex world.
Maestro: What advice do you have for companies struggling to keeping up with the changing landscape of learning?
Stephanie: Align yourself with business needs and listen closely to your customer. If it’s not what the business needs or an unmet need of your customer, there’s no point in trying to implement all the latest and greatest bells and whistles. Companies need to be agile and able to respond to actual demands. The changing landscape of learning should serve as the inspiration for implementing what works best in your context.
Maestro: What’s next for you? Anything you would like to add about what you have planned either on your own or with your company?
Stephanie: I’m scheming how to take my work to a larger scale within our organization. How can I go from 50 people being able to use certain skills and knowledge to 2,500 people? How do we scale in a way that has long-lasting impact on staff and the communities they serve? How do you get the broader community to actively contribute plus take a role in being the curator of learning? I’ll give you a hint… we aren’t thinking a 3-day in-person training (with potentially some e-courses thrown in) will do the trick.